As you probably already know, your performance at the gym is imperative to your muscle growth and fat loss results. This is one of the main reasons why there is a lot of hype around the questions “what is the best pre-workout” and “what to eat before going to the gym“.
But why exactly is your pre-workout prep so important?
Well, there are quite a few reasons why but the main and most important ones are that it helps you improve your workout intensity which in turns helps you build more muscle and burn more calories; it helps you reduce fatigue and have more powerful training sessions; it helps you reduce catabolic intensity (muscle breakdown); more energy which means lifting heavier (which again leads to better muscle hypertrophy); potentially improve testosterone production and the list goes on.
In the end of the day, the preparation that you have for your workout helps you facilitate muscle growth and fat burn.
Well, this short and hopefully simple article is meant to help you better understand what makes a good pre-workout and how it can drastically improve your results.
Ok, enough chit chat…
What To Eat Before Your Workout To Maximize Fat Loss and Muscle Growth
Let’s start simple, with your pre-workout meal.
We all have heard the saying “Fitness is 30% exercise and 70% food”, well there is a really good reason why this infamous proverb has made its way through so many websites, blogs and videos. Because it’s the absolute truth
The food that you eat before working out will greatly impact your performance at the gym and in end make a noticeable difference to your physique.
OK, let’s dive in…
The first and most important way that you are going to get the most out of your pre-workout meal is by simply separating your protein and your carbohydrates. While the effects of this technique may be minimal, it will allow for you to achieve the best digestion and nutrient absorption possible.
Realistically, it’s hard for your body to digest protein and carbs when they are taken simultaneously. It cannot break down both macro nutrients efficiently at the same time. Typically, when you’re at the gym you want your blood to be circulating in the body so that it can deliver nutrients to your muscles as fast as possible, and not staying in the digestive track and working on the digestion of your food.
In other words, the easier it is to digest the food the better. This is the main main reason why there are so many fitness enthusiasts out there that consume Greek yogurt in abundance as the probiotic bacteria found in yogurt is known to help improve the body’s digestion (read more).
Improper digestion may also cause your body to cannibalize its existing muscle tissue which means that you are technically going backwards when you are at the gym.
The enzymes used to break down carbs and the enzymes used to break down protein are so different that they may sometimes start to conflict with each other, which can lead to fermentation of the carbohydrates. Not only are the carbs not utilized but they are may also cause for an upset stomach, which leads to more bloodflow to the stomach and less to the muscles, thus starving your muscles even more.
Not to mention the extremely uncomfortable feeling of exercising while with an upset belly, nothing worse.
If you are wondering what should the separation time between your protein and carbs be, well it should be about 15-20 minutes starting with your carbs as the are easier for the body to breakdown than their counterpart.
Additionally, what you can also do is try and make sure that you are eating fruit before your workout. The carbs found in fruit in the form of fructose is utilized for energy release immediately, just like any other sugar alternative. It does not generally get stored in the muscle as glycogen like from other source of carbs (study).
What this also means is that eating that post-workout banana after a hard and sweaty session in the gym is actually a bad idea as it will NOT help you replenish your glycogen storage.
Another nifty trick worth is adding salt. Sodium (NaCl) is known to have electrolyte properties. Sodium electrolytes are responsible for the control of the total amount of water in the body. It’s also important for regulating blood volume and muscle/nerve functionality maintenance.
Electrolytes will essentially help you improve your weight lifting and cardio performance when at the gym as well as improve muscle hydration (pump) – which is known to be associated with muscle hypertrophy.
Don’t overdue it, though as over-consumption of sodium may lead to hypernatremia, which can lead to dehydration and believe me when I say that this is the LAST thing you want to happen during a workout. Read more about it.
Something that I really like integrating to my pre-workout meal is a nice cup of coffee, or if I’m in a hurry, a cold glass of energy drink just to get some caffeine running through my veins and potentially boost my power output at the gym. Also, caffeine is well known to help with fat loss.
If you were wondering what my personal favorite pre-workout meal is – it’s a cut up banana and a half a pomegranate mixed in a bowl of yogurt (roughly 500g) with some coconut oil (for those medium-chained triglycerides that help with fatty acid energy conversion) that has been shown to increase total daily calorie expenditure with about 7-10%. The meal is great as it will provide you with a lot of energy, a good amount of protein and will help you burn some extra calories along the way.
Plus, it tastes great!
Supplementation has received quite a lot of beef in past decade from people who claim that they are nothing more than a scam.
Are they a necessity?
Obviously not! You don’t really NEED supplements in order to grow or lose body fat, they just augment your results and help you achieve that aesthetic-ripped physique with better ease and comfort.
And potentially reach thresholds that otherwise you wouldn’t be capable of reaching.
When it comes to my pre-workout arsenal I like to keep it nice and simple and stick with the essentials:
I’m not going to go into too much detail about creatine because I’ve already written a very in-depth article (comes with a colorful and informative infographic) regarding everything you need to know about creatine. Including how to take and use creatine for maximum results.
Essentially, creatine is a combination of three anabolic amino acids – arginine, glycine and methionine. Those three amino acids are responsible for an aerie of benefits ranging from improving high intensity work to increasing strength and power.
As creatine helps your body produce more ATP (your main energy molecule) you will be able to lift heavier, do more reps and sets, and last longer on the treadmill when sprinting. All of this in turn will help you boost your muscle growth as well as caloric expenditure (i.e. burn more body fat).
Creatine is also really cheap, which makes it perfect for any student who’s trying to make some gains.
For whatever reason most people shiver when they hear the word “Creatine” as they believe that the product is dangerous that it can harm your kidneys and liver. Truth be told, the majority of these threats are nothing more but myths popularized by ignorant internet influencers. Read more about the truths and myths about creatine.
If you’re looking for any good products on the market that come at a reasonable price I strongly you recommend you try this one out: Optimum Nutrition Creatine Powder. It has really good absorption rate and does not taste as bad as the other products on the market. Plus, it’s at a helluva good price.
Also, If you want to boost the absorption rate of creatine then make sure you mix it with something that has an insulin boosting property such as whey protein, BCAAs (which is also on the list) or any simple sugar (like grape juice). Try and stay away from orange juice because the acidity level of the orange will drastically reduce the absorption rate and other positive effects of the supplement.
If you are questioning “what is the appropriate dosage of creatine before workout” – just remember to take a look at the detailed article on How does creatine work.
Creatine-monohydrate is without doubt one of the most powerful products in the market, which is exactly why it’s the number one supplement that you need to make sure you have in your pre-worokout prep.
Branched chain amino acids, more commonly known as BCAAs, is a chain of three main amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine.
One of the main functions of BCAAs is that it helps block out serotonin in the brain, which helps lower brain fatigue during a workout keeping you pumped, focused and ready to do as many sets and reps as heavy as your body can, without your mind pulling you back.
BCAAs carry both anabolic and anti-catabolic functions as the supplement helps increase protein synthesis and decrease muscle breakdown and muscle loss.
However, the main BCAA pre-workout benefit comes from the supplement’s ability to stimulate insulin production, which in turn improves the cells’ ability to absorb amino acids and carbohydrates. All of this leaves you with a more satisfying and sweaty workout session at the gym.
In other words BCAAs is a wonderful supplement that not only helps you improve the quality of your workout but also leaves you feeling better mentally as well.
Taking BCAAs after your workout is also important as it has a faster anti-catabolic function than whey protein. This is beneficial as the quicker you leave that catabolic state the quicker you can enter anabolism – i.e. start building muscle.
It is considered that the ideal mix of the three amino acids in a serving is 3:1:2, which is why I aim and go for products that only offer this range. A really good one that has amazing taste is this one by MusclePharm 3:1:2 Blue Raspberry.
Or if you are a fan of BCAAs in a tablet form try out this MusclePharm’s 2 Pack bundle that comes at an amazing price.
Remember, BCAAs stimulates insulin production! What that means is that if you combine both supplements [BCAA and Creatine monohydrate] as your pre-workout you’re going to get a stellar pump at the gym.
OK, I am pretty sure that you may have heard of BCAAs and Creatine-monohydrate in some shape or form before reading this article. But chances are you have NEVER heard of Beta Alanine.
To briefly summarize – Beta-alanine is an non-essential amino acid that is produced in the muscle tissue and has been shown to enhance muscle endurance and decrease fatigue during high-intensity activity (such as weightlifting).
It helps in three main ways: 1) helps break down of creatine phosphate – which is what creatine monohydrate is broken down into; 2) breaking down sugar (glucose) which helps because you’re going to be using your glucose and glycogen storages; and 3) improves oxygen usage.
Basically, this supplement allows for you to go harder and longer at the gym.
Some studies even claim that athletes who took 3.2g of beta alanine per day for 12 weeks during a competitive soccer season managed to improve their performance with about 34%.
The fact that it’s present in the muscle tissue means that the best way to gain the amino acid naturally is through the consumption of meat – with one of the best source being beef, chicken, fish, etc. Of course, this leaves us with the question, if you’re already eating meat before your workout would using Beta-alanine supplementation be an overkill?
Well, considering that a grilled top-loin fillet carries about 3g of Alanine, there isn’t much need to take the supplement. The problem however is that this meal is hard a) hard for your body to digest and b) expensive as hell. Keep in mind that one small scoop of the product provides you with about 1.6g of Alanine.
If you want to boost your workout performance then you can give this product a go. You can check out this: Beta-Alanine by Optimum Nutrition which is unflavored sadly.
According to Dr. C. Lockwood, if you are taking taurine as a supplement then you don’t have to worry about cycling beta-alanine. However, if you are not, then you need to be on a 4-9 weeks on and 4-9 weeks off. Read his article about Beta-Alanine to get a better picture.
What you eat before your workout can be a game changer. Your pre-workout meal can improve your workout at the gym and thus helping you gain more muscle mass and potentially lose more body fat in the process.
Do you have to do all of this in order to see any results in the mirror? – not necessarily is the easy answer.
Nobody’s saying that if you DO NOT do any of the tips listed in this article that you’re not going to see any improvements next time you weigh or measure yourself.
Rather, the point of this article is to show you how with a little know-how and clever thinking you can improve your performance at the gym and consequently make your quest to an aesthetic physique easier to achieve.
Let me know…
In the comments below let me know what would you recommend is a good pre-workout meal or supplement.
Like I already mentioned, my personal favorite is cut bananas with some yogurt and coconut oil.
Let me know what is yours!